A few have shown interest on how I turned my hobbies of a) being cheap, b) always fidgeting with something into a Disney trip we probably never really thought we’d get around to actually spending money on. This made it so much easier to come to terms with it all. And money’s not an issue, but if it is for you or you’re like me and you just love a good value for the sake of it…here’s what I did to get it done for a family of 3.
One prior word, this isn’t meant to come off like a “This is the only way!” post, or as if I’m pushing a website to follow or whatever. I’m just a Scrooge-McDuck-In-Training and am writing this as I go with barely any edits. If anything is unclear or seems contradicting, it wasn’t meant that way. Just ask for clarification and I’ll do my best. I also don’t know EVERYTHING about travel hacking, but if there’s something you want to know and I can help, I will.
First I have to assume everyone knows the basics of travel hacking. If not, here you go:
- Have good/great credit
- Be responsible (don’t ever NOT pay a monthly bill in full, thus causing APR to hit)
- Have money to float your bills if you need to “pad” spending to hit requirements if you do a lot of cards at once or have to spend more than you typically do.
- Be responsible (NEVER spend more than you can afford on a card. Just put daily expenses on it and let it pile up. If you need to “manufacture spend” to hit the requirements then be sure to research ideas on that, etc.)
- Be eager to learn and read up on the endless amounts of actual hacking sites to get all the latest ideas and basic “how to start” structuring. There IS a majorly important way to go about it in order to get some of the BEST bonus offers out there.
Here we go!
A couple of the cards DID have annual fees which were not waived in the first year, so I had to pay those. That’s $95, I think for 2 cards, but considering I have a large balance of reward points across the board remaining after redeeming for everything, I don’t really count them all as spent. So I don’t yet count the $$ invested. But if that IS important to you and you have to consider costs, then for 100% transparency I am $190 ($95 each for 2 card fees) into all of the following. That’s still a joke and pocket change for what I got out of it.
This is much easier with 2 people in the household, but my wife didn’t take to it for a while and only got 1 card to help with all of this. Had she been in from the get-go, we’d have been able to either do it much faster or pull off so much more. So if you have more than 3 in the family, that’s a big help to add redemption power.
This surely isn’t the best way to get the best values out of your points, but it is a way to get it done. And it was painless. You could double up on some of these cards with 2 people in the household, and easily have more “travel” specific costs covered (like getting 2 Arrival and Venture cards and applying them to hotel costs, etc. whereas I used a different approach).
My goal: go to Disney for a week as cheap as possible without driving, suffering, or using my valuable Chase UR point stash.
What: Park Tickets / 3x (2 adult/1child) 6-day park tickets
Which card: Barclays Arrival+ (70K sign-up bonus, after hitting the spending requirement I was left with an 82K+ worth of points, good enough for 1 adult/1 child ticket. I told my wife that her tickets were up to her; if she would agree to get a card (I’d even handle the spending, redeeming, etc. so she didn’t have to think twice) I’d be happy to do so, otherwise she can spend cash. She obliged and we got a CapitalOne Venture card, which I believe had a bonus of 50K (+the points you run up while hitting the spending requirements of course).
How: Purchasing through Undercover Tourist, Disney tickets are billed as TRAVEL expenses. This means the big-point travel rewards cards can be used to “erase”/redeem tickets as a travel purchase. As far as I know, this is the only way to get that done at least if not booking an entire package with a travel agent, etc.
Bonus: BANKED $210 balance on her Venture card (will apply to cover resort fees) and $200+ on my Arrival+, which I used to get Uber gift cards through United’s MileageX app which also bills as travel. So now we’re all set on misc. extras such as ground transportation and hotel resort fees.
What: Airfare (3x Delta direct flights)
Which card: Amex Delta Gold (60K signup bonus? Can’t recall). After hitting spending requirements I was of course left with thousands more than the 60K.
How: This turned out better than anticipated. I DID have 100K+ worth of Delta SkyMiles already, but expected to spend nearly all of them on this trip. So I got the Delta Gold card ($95 fee waived, I know for sure) good for 60 or 70K (whichever) to make sure I replenished whatever I spent, because I like to be able to fly free whenever I want. So I went ahead and booked very early, and was able to get my flights for 15K each! That saved me 50% worth of points I expected to use, leaving me again with another ton of points for later.
Bonus: Even IF I had to pay the $95 fee for this card, I still ended up with 30-40K worth of points ON TOP of redeeming to go to Disney…and that’s a solid deal.
One “cheat” I had is that I was holding a free flight voucher I finagled from Delta last year due to a snafu. Using this for 1 of the tickets saved me from having to redeem 15K more miles, but my plans had accounted to cover the ticket either way. Just a bonus.
What: Hotel - 7 nights @ Swan
Which card: N/A
Well, here’s a cheat. But it could have been done if I needed it. I had about 400K Bonvoy points and each night here is 50K worth. Stay 5 or 6 and get 1 free, so the total was 300K even. I wanted to stay HERE vs. an on-site Disney resort because it was the only on-site (Magic Hours and transportation were all we really cared about for perks) hotel at which we could redeem points. If I NEEDED to, we could have gotten 2 100K Chase Bonvoy cards to cover 2/3 of it, then another card or 2 throughout the year to cover the balance as a travel expense or cashback redemption. Just to give an idea of how that could have otherwise been done, had I not been stocked up already.
OR if you’d prefer a value resort like Animation, Movies, etc. you could always use one of the above (Arrival+/Venture) or similar that gives travel redemptions. Unless Disney charges those as ENTERTAINMENT, that is, in which case you’d have to rely on a cashback card bonus. Again, it can still be done if you pick the right card. At $100 or so per day you’d expect $600-800 after fees and such so that’s 60-80K roughly worth of points if you want to follow this plan and look up your own cards.
How: Marriott Bonvoy points, simple redemption through their site
Bonus: Well, the 50K points per night is a horrible value compared to what I’d do with them otherwise, but my project here was FREE DISNEY and that’s it. So I uncharacteristically blew a bunch of points, but oh well. As it happens I have a credit card which offers a $300 annual travel credit, so once we get there I plan to use that to cover 1 night and get 50K points back. That’ll leave me with a balance of almost $100 on my travel credit.
I think the worst part about the whole hotel thing, though I’m still keeping it since we’re all set with everything, is that we REALLY wanted to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. With the way everything came down we only have 3 EMH days we’re taking advantage of. Hollywood Studios changed their morning open times and removed expected EMH, so that really becomes moot. Sure we’ll still get there early, but so will everybody else. They DID add evening magic hours, but I figure that will be busier as people can more easily stay up later than wake up earlier. We shall see.
Extras & some bonus hacking know-how: for all the remaining extras, a few of which again came from already-stocked points. But really, no one plans to pay for this stuff with points so it’s hardly a concern. Plus, you COULD cover all of that with 1 extra card at the 50K cashback level card, like Sapphire Preferred/Reserve. I think both have the same 50K bonus, but Preferred has a $95 fee while Reserve has a $450 ($550 later this year with many more perks). Reserve also has that $300 travel credit, so “paying” $450 up front and using the $300 to offset hotel or air costs as needed leaves a card fee of $150. You can also get a higher redemption rate through their portal with this card vs. Preferred, so if you happened to want to stay off-site you could easily do that through here with either of these cards and help cover costs that way. Depending how you split air & hotel and with which cards (cashback vs. travel), you can see how you have numerous options.
The final many words on this: So here’s what we had to play with for all the extras:
Wife had 56K worth of Chase UR points. I decided we’d just take the low cash value and blow them out. With them, we cashed in to cover $100 worth of upgraded Magic Bands, Memory Maker, and I used the balance to put toward Disney Gift Cards.
Now here’s where it gets even more fun. I think I had $280 worth of “cash” from her UR points. I bought a $500 Disney Gift Card online with a credit card offer to get some kickbacks plus the vendor’s #% off sale. In total, I SPENT $445 for a $500 gift card.
Actual cash out of pocket at this point: $165.
Since I already had the trip itself covered along with extras and lots of time to spare, I wanted to see what else I could do. I opened up a business checking account which offered a $500 sign-up bonus after you jump through their hoops. Add some money, add a direct deposit, leave it there for X days. It surprisingly took an hour to set this up in person, but if you do any side business type stuff you can rightfully open up such an account and go with it. I happen to have an actual use (not need, but use) for that anyway so I figured what the heck. Cost was $0 and my bonus even hits during my Disney trip. The $500 bonus, minus the $165 I already used of “real money” to get the $500 gift card, leaves me with a total of $335 new bonus money to spend willy-nilly. I bought $300 worth of Disney Gift Cards with that and we are off to the races.
For those wondering why I kept going after Disney Gift Cards, I am using another credit card that yields 5x points at office stores. So $800 worth of gift cards got me 4000 Chase UR points which believe it or not can be worked to redeem for a free night at a decent hotel with a value of around $100-120 depending where you go! Nothing fancy, but not a total dump. Or it could cover a few days worth of a cheap car rental. Actual cash value on that is only $40, so forget that.
This was all pretty simple, straight-forward, and fast. I consider myself pretty good with travel hacking but there are some out there who spend so high on “manufactured costs” by cycling/selling gift cards, buying money orders and banking them, etc. to rack up ungodly amounts of points, but that’s beyond the fun for me. I tried that before and it sucked. I barely had to think at all about any of ALL of this above. The worst part was waiting for the time thresholds to hit and wait out to apply for new cards. If it wasn’t for that I could have gotten twice as many cards and still not have had to think much about it. Of course, this was all done with normal monthly spending by throwing everything onto cards, and in some cases paying a couple bills a few months ahead just to expedite things. Wasn’t necessary, but was easier to make sure I satisfied a 3-month spending requirement in 1 month or so instead.
I think this covers everything! If anything is unclear, ask away. I tried to explain what I did vs. what an alternate idea could have been in most cases. Some cases I didn’t have to do anything and offered an idea on what could have been done otherwise.
Something I forgot: Sometime during the middle of the year I also got a Citi Premier card which came with a 60K point bonus. My original plan to blow this out for under $500 worth of “cash” value. I realized I could get 2x+ that value by transferring those points to a travel partner, and I felt enough was enough and decided to keep all of these for future use. This is pretty much where the checking account opening bonus came into play, to replace this with actual cash that is only as good as cash. Those Citi points are looking like a couple $700-900 plane tickets to Hawaii if I get the redemption right. FAR better than $480 cash which I don’t need for the sake of it.